Photo: Jim McCue, Maryland Jockey Club
Morton Fink’s homebred Wise Dan, winner of the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (Grade I) at Churchill Downs last fall, and Pin Oak Stable’s homebred Alternation,
the top-rated horse in the latest NTRA poll off his narrow victory in
the Pimlico Special (GIII), head a stellar field of nine entered for
Saturday’s 31st running of the $400,000-added Stephen Foster Handicap (GI) at Churchill Downs.
The 2012 Stephen Foster for 3-year-olds and up at 1 1/8 miles on the
main track will make history as the first renewal of the race run under
the lights. It is the main event among four stakes races scheduled that
evening as part of the “Downs After Dark” Presented by Stella Artois and Finlandia Vodka racing program. The Stephen Foster is scheduled as Race 8 at 9:39 p.m. (ET).
Wise Dan will carry the top weight of 123 pounds in the Stephen
Foster. A 5-year-old gelded son of Wiseman’s Ferry, Wise Dan completed
his 2011 campaign with a victory in the Clark and returned this year in
the Ben Ali (GIII) at Keeneland, where he won by 10 ½ lengths in
track-record time in his only start of 2012. A graded-stakes winner on
turf, dirt and synthetic surfaces, Wise Dan has accumulated a record of
9-0-0 from 15 starts and earnings of $1,009,601. Trained by Charlie Lopresti, Wise Dan will break from post three under John Velazquez.
Wise Dan is coupled with Successful Dan, who
recently broke a Churchill Downs track record in winning the Alysheba
Presented by Besilu Stables (GII) for Fink and Lopresti on the Kentucky
Oaks Day undercard. Successful Dan also crossed the line first in the
2010 Clark Handicap, but was disqualified and placed third for
interfering with Redding Colliery in the stretch.
Lopresti has said that Successful Dan is entered as a back-up plan and
will only race if Wise Dan scratches. The Fink entry was made the heavy morning-line favorite at 8-5 by Churchill Downs oddsmaker Mike Battaglia.
Fink won the 2001 edition of the Foster with Guided Tour and could join M. B. Collins, Claiborne Farm, Richard Trebat, Stronach Stables and West Point Thoroughbreds among the its only two-time winning owners.
Alternation is the second top weight and will carry 122 pounds when breaking from post eight under Luis Quinonez.
A 4-year-old dark bay or brown son of Distorted Humor, Alternation
improved his 2012 record to 4-for-4 with his victory in the Pimlico
Special. His other victories this year include the Essex Handicap,
Razorback Handicap (GIII) and Oaklawn Handicap (GII) – all at Oaklawn
Park. Trained by Donnie Von Hemel, Alternation has a career record of 8-1-1 from 13 starts and earnings of $900,004.
Wise Dan is one of two Grade-I winners in the 2012 Stephen Foster field. The other is Brous Stable, Wachtel Stable and Jack Hammer’s Ron the Greek, winner of this year’s Santa Anita Handicap (GI) for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott,
the all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs. It was the second
graded stakes win for Ron the Greek, who also was victorious in the 2010
LeComte (GIII) at Fair Grounds. He will enter Saturday’s race off a
second-place finish to Foster rival Alternation in the Oaklawn Handicap
and will break from post five under Jose Lezcano.
Four of the other five runners in the Stephen Foster are graded stakes winners and include Windy Hill Farm’s Nates Mineshaft, Janis Whitham’s Fort Larned, Twin Creeks Racing Stables LLC’s Mission Impazible and Catesby Clay’s Rogue Romance.
Nates Mineshaft has a trio of graded stakes victories to his name in
2012 – the Mineshaft (GIII), New Orleans Handicap (GII) and Lone Star
Park Handicap (GIII). The lone off-the-board finish this year for the Austin Smith-trained
Nates Mineshaft came in the Alysheba behind Successful Dan. A
5-year-old ridgling by Mineshaft, the 2003 Horse of the Year who was
runner-up to Perfect Drift in that year’s Stephen Foster renewal, Nates
Mineshaft will break from the rail under Jesse Campbell.
Fort Larned will enter the Foster off the top two performances of his career. Trained by Ian Wilkes,
Fort Larned won the Skip Away (GIII) at Gulfstream Park in track-record
time and then was run down in the stretch by Successful Dan in the
Alysheba. He will break from post two under Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the Skip Away win.
Mission Impazible, winner of last year’s New Orleans Handicap (GII),
is the lone 2012 starter with prior Stephen Foster experience. A
5-year-old gray or roan son of Unbridled’s Song, Mission Impazible
finished second by a neck to William S. Farish Jr.’s Pool Play in the 2011 running of the Foster. It was his first of two runner-up finishes in a Grade I at Churchill Downs. Trained by Todd Pletcher,
Mission Impazible returned in the fall to finish second behind Wise Dan
in the Clark Handicap. He will break from post seven under Javier Castellano.
Rogue Romance, the starting light weight in the field at 115 pounds,
completed his 2-year-old campaign in 2010 with a win in the Bourbon
(GIII) on the Keeneland turf and a third-place finish behind champion Uncle Mo and Boys at Tosconova
in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI) at Churchill Downs. After racing
just once last year, Rogue Romance has won two of his three starts in
2012. In his most recent start, he won a 1 1/16-mile allowance at
Churchill Downs by five lengths under Manny Cruz, who will be aboard Rogue Romance when he breaks from post six in the Stephen Foster.
The lone non-graded stakes winner in the field is Zayat Stables LLC’s Nehro,
who still has had quite an impressive career. Following second-place
finishes in the Louisiana Derby (GII) and Arkansas Derby (GI) last year,
Nehro was runner-up to Animal Kingdom in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (GI).
A 4-year-old son of Mineshaft, Nehro just missed getting up late in the
Pimlico Special against Alternation in his last start. He will try to
turn the tables on his Pimlico Special rival when breaking from post
four Saturday night under Corey Nakatani. Nehro is trained by Steve Asmussen, who saddled Curlin for his 2008 Stephen Foster victory.
Saturday’s Stephen Foster also will mark the first time the race has
been part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In" Challenge Series. The
Foster winner will earn an automatic starting berth in the $5 million
Breeders’ Cup Classic (GI) on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita, the winner’s entry
fees to the Championships will be paid by the Breeders’ Cup and the
winning stable will receive a $10,000 travel allowance.
The 2010 Stephen Foster was won by Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm’s Blame,
who returned to Churchill Downs the following November to win the
Breeders’ Cup Classic. Blame was the fourth horse to take the Stephen
Foster and Classic in the same year, joining Black Tie Affair-IRE (1991), Awesome Again (1998) and Saint Liam (2005).
Black Tie Affair, Saint Liam and Curlin won their respective renewals
of the Stephen Foster on their way to Horse of the Year honors. Mineshaft, who finished second to Perfect Drift in the 2003 Stephen Foster, also was honored with the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
The field for the Stephen Foster Handicap, from the rail out, is as
follows: Nates Mineshaft (ridden by Jesse Campbell, weighted at 118
pounds, 6-1 morning-line odds), Fort Larned (Julien Leparoux, 117, 5-1),
Wise Dan (John Velazquez, 123, 8-5), Nehro (Corey Nakatani, 116, 8-1),
Ron the Greek (Jose Lezcano, 119, 6-1), Rogue Romance (Manny Cruz, 115,
30-1), Mission Impazible (Javier Castellano, 116, 8-1), Alternation
(Luis Quinonez, 122, 4-1) and Successful Dan (Velazquez, 119, 8-5).